Mon, May 08, 2017 - Page 10 News List

New cloud hovers over FIFA meet in Bahrain this week


FIFA president Gianni Infantino plays with young Cuban players during a tour around the La Polar Stadium in Havana, Cuba, on April 29.

Photo: AFP

Two years on from the corruption crisis which consumed FIFA, soccer’s governing body meets for its latest annual congress in Bahrain this week still far from free of suspicion.

It was May 2015 in Switzerland, as delegates prepared for that year’s congress, when plainclothes officers pounced and arrested scores of FIFA officials.

The ramifications of that are still being felt — with ongoing investigations in the US and Switzerland — and 24 months later fresh problems are emerging for the still relatively new leadership of president Gianni Infantino.

The run-up to this year’s event in Manama, which opens on Thursday, has been overshadowed by the resignation from the FIFA council of powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, who is facing corruption allegations in the US.

Ahmad has been named as a co-conspirator of disgraced Guam soccer chief Richard Lai, who recently pleaded guilty to receiving nearly US$1 million in bribes from soccer officials wanting his help to influence FIFA.

Sabah’s prominence across sport cannot be underestimated, as he also heads the Association of National Olympic Committees, the Olympic Council of Asia and has other senior sport administration posts, including with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Issues on FIFA’s agenda this week could also prove contentious.

Item 16 is a proposal to look at how FIFA allocates its most prestigious tournament, the World Cup. Under current rules, the event cannot be staged in the same region more than once every 12 years.

However, any change to this policy could allow soccer’s emerging power, China, to make a bid for the 2030 tournament, just eight years after its AFC colleague, Qatar, controversially hosts the 2022 World Cup.

Any such move is likely to be challenged by Argentina and Uruguay which wants to jointly host the tournament in 17 years’ time to mark the centenary of the very first World Cup, played in Montevideo.

Another contentious issue is that of Israel and Palestine. The Palestine Football Association argues that the presence of six Israeli clubs on its territory is in breach of FIFA statutes, which forbids another member association playing on another territory without permission.

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